Saturday, March 01, 2008

Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South

After watching North and South for the first time I just had to read the book that started it all. If I loved the movie, I assumed I would feel the same about the book, right? I finished North and South a few weeks ago and for a mid 19th century novel it was an easy read. I simply loved it!

I was also interested in the woman who came up with this book about social structures and the differences between many types of people. Elizabeth Gaskell is an very interesting women. Did you know she was Charlotte Bronte’s biographer and she was friends with Charles Dickens? Dickens edited North and South and the original title was, Margaret Hale. The basic plot goes as follows:

The book is a social novel that tries to show the industrial North and its conflicts in the mid-19th century as seen by an outsider, a socially sensitive lady from the South. The heroine of the story, Margaret Hale, is the daughter of a Nonconformist minister who moves to the fictional industrial town of Milton after leaving the Church of England.

We all adore John Thornton but the main character of this story is Margaret herself. She is the one responsible for many changes in the lives of the people in Milton. From everyone she comes in contact with, she changes their lives for the better, whether it be Higgins, John or even Mr. Bell. The reason to read North and South is because of Margaret. She is a wonderful heroine and very much an example of those heroines in the romance we all adore.

When it came to the character of John, Richard Armitage’s characterization of John ruined me. I couldn’t visualize any other man. Richard plays John as very stoic and a bit cold. But in the book he is more easy going and very sweet, and this is not because of his looks or that Richard Armitage appeal. I am sorry to say that when Margaret is first introduced to John it is not in his factory through a sea of white, but rather, John goes to the Hale’s home. Remember their initial introduction? Well, in the book it is much worse than in the movie. In the movie, Margaret is filled with disgust over the way John treats one of his employees. In the book she thinks he is crude and basically an ass. For that moment I didn’t care for Margaret in the least.

This is what she thinks of our poor John Thornton when her mother asks about him:

“About thirty – with a face that is neither exactly plain, nor yet handsome, nothing remarkable – not quite a gentleman but that was hardly to be expected”

You can wonder what word I would have liked to call Margaret at this moment by page 65!

Now John is not what he seems. When he first meets Margaret he is enthralled by her beauty and becomes smitten right away. The word that comes to mind when he thinks about Margaret is “graceful”. He loves the way the sunlight hits her hair and the simple act of arranging the tea for her father and John. But unfortunately Margaret puts a bad taste in John’s mouth because in the north, people shake hands. Margaret doesn’t know this and stands there as John waits breathless to touch her hand. Margaret doesn’t shake his hand and for the moment he thinks Margaret is:

“A more proud, disagreeable girl I never saw. Even her great beauty is blotted out of one’s memory by her scornful ways.”

This is just a small taste of what this book has to offer. And I wish I could put down every scene that I enjoyed. There is no “look back at me” scene or our favorite all time finale in a movie- “train scene”, but North and South is a lovely and lyrical book that I urge everyone to go and read. I found myself reading slowly and taking in the town of Milton and the characters. The three that come to life most of all are John, Mrs. Thornton and Margaret with their internal thoughts and processes. And for all you fans of Higgins, his accent and voice comes out loud and strong. He was one man you wished for the best out of everyone. He is one character who loses so much but becomes a better person because of it.

Now, the ending in the book is so very different from the movie. No train, no kissing with tongue… no naked neck I want to sink my teeth into from John. But, the last few pages were just as romantic and beautiful as that final scene in the movie. Margaret does go to John with her business proposition. The most intimate thing they do is hold hands and rub their cheeks against each other as John passionately says “Margaret” multiple times because he can’t believe she is back and wants him after a very long time of refusing him and all the misconceptions between them both. The final few sentences had me smiling and laughing at the same time because they are very ingenious.

This is after Margaret accept the yellow flower from John and she has to figure out how to tell her Aunt about John:

John: “Let me speak to her”

“Oh no! I owe it to her, - but what will she say?”

“I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, “That man!”

“Hush!” said Margaret, “or I shall try and show you your mother’s indignant tones as she says, “That woman!”

**Fade to black**



Marg said...

I am trying to convince an online group I am part of to have this as one of their discussion books over, so hopefully will get to read it over the next couple of months.

Ana said...

Great review. I read the book ages ago, so I don't remember the details very well but I know I wanted to shake Magaret for most of the book LOL.

The final few sentences were a perfect ending!

Kristie (J) said...

OK Katie - you've convinced me. This book is next up on my list!!
What a Most Excellent Review!

Meriam said...

I loved that ending! After watching N&S, I went online and read the book because I was curious to see the differences between the text and the film. Both the endings were so romantic in their own way.

This bit in the book:

He knelt by her side, to bring his face to a level with her ear; and whispered-panted out the words:--

'Take care.--If you do not speak--I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.--Send me away at once, if I must go;--Margaret!--'

Damn. I just love it.